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World War II: Messerschmitt Me 262

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World War II: Messerschmitt Me 262

Me-262A

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

Specifications:

General

  • Length: 34 ft. 9 in.
  • Wingspan: 41 ft.
  • Height: 11 ft. 6 in.
  • Wing Area: 234 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 8,400 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 15,720 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Power Plant: 2 x Junkers Jumo 004B-1 turbojets, 8.8 kN (1,980 lbf) each
  • Range: 652 miles
  • Max Speed: 541 mph
  • Ceiling: 37,565 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 4 x 30 mm MK 108 cannons
  • Bombs/Rockets: 2 x 550 lb. bombs (A-2a only), 24 x 2.2 in. R4M rockets

Design & Development:

Though best known as a late-war weapon, design of the Messerschmitt Me 262 began prior to World War II in April 1939. Known as Projekt P.1065, the aircraft that would become the world's first jet fighter received mixed support as many influential Luftwaffe officers felt that the approaching conflict could be won by piston-engine aircraft alone. In 1939 and 1940, Messerschmitt completed the initial design of the aircraft and began building prototypes to test the airframe. Originally possessing a conventional landing gear design, this was changed to a tricycle arrangement to improve control on the ground.

On April 18, 1941, the prototype Me 262 V1 flew for the first time powered by a nose-mounted Junkers Jumo 210 engine turning a propeller. This use of a piston engine was the result of delays with the aircraft's intended twin BMW 003 turbojets. The Jumo 210 was retained on the prototype as a safety feature following the arrival of the BMW 003s. This proved fortuitous as both turbojets failed during their initial flight, forcing the pilot to land using the piston engine. Testing in this manner continued for over a year and it was not until July 18, 1942, that the Me 262 (Prototype V3) flew as "pure" jet.

Streaking above Leipheim, Messerschmitt test pilot Fritz Wendel's Me 262 beat the first Allied jet into the skies by about nine months. As the aircraft was refined, the BMW 003 engines were abandoned due to poor performance and replaced by the Junkers Jumo 004. Though an improvement, the early jet engines possessed incredibly short operational lives, typically lasting only 12-25 hours. Faster than any Allied fighter, production of the Me 262 became a priority for the Luftwaffe. Due to Allied bombing, production was distributed to small factories in German territory, with around 1,400 ultimately being built.

Operational History:

Entering service in April 1944, the Me 262 was used in two primary roles. The Me 262 A-1a "Schwalbe" (Swallow) was developed as a defensive interceptor while the Me 262 A-2a "Sturmvogel" (Stormbird) was created as a fighter-bomber. The Stormbird variant was designed at Hitler's insistence. While over a thousand Me 262s were produced, only around 200-250 ever made it to frontline squadrons due to shortages in fuel, pilots, and parts. The first unit to deploy the Me 262 was Erprobungskommando 262 in April 1944. Taken over by Major Walter Nowotny in July, it was renamed Kommando Nowotny.

Developing tactics for the new aircraft, Nowotny's men trained through the summer of 1944, and first saw action in August. His squadron was joined by others, however only a few of the aircraft were available at any given time. On August 28, the first Me 262 was lost to enemy action when Major Joseph Myers and Second Lieutenant Manford Croy of the 78th Fighter Group shot one down while flying P-47 Thunderbolts. After limited use during the fall, the Luftwaffe created several new Me 262 formations in the early months of 1945.

Among those becoming operational was Jagdverband 44 led by the famed Lieutenant General Adolf Galland. A unit of select Luftwaffe pilots, JV 44 began flying in February 1945. With the activation of additional squadrons, the Luftwaffe was finally able to mount large Me 262 attacks on Allied bomber formations. While these attacks frequently proved successful, the relatively small number of available Me 262s limited their overall effect. Me 262 pilots developed several tactics for striking Allied bombers.

Among methods preferred by pilots were diving and attacking with the Me 262's four 30mm cannon and approaching from a bomber's side and firing R4M rockets at long range. In most cases, the Me 262's high speed made it nearly invulnerable to a bomber's guns. To cope with the new German threat, the Allies developed a variety of anti-jet tactics. P-51 Mustang pilots quickly learned that the Me 262 was not as maneuverable as their own planes and found that they could attack the jet as it turned. As a practice, escorting fighters began flying high over the bombers so that they could quickly dive on German jets.

Also, as the Me-262 required concrete runways, Allied leaders singled out jet bases for heavy bombing with the goal of destroying the aircraft on the ground and eliminating its infrastructure. The most proven method for dealing with the Me 262 was to attack it as it was taking off or landing. This was largely due to the jet's poor performance at low speeds. To counter this, the Luftwaffe constructed large flak batteries along the approaches to their Me 262 bases. By war's end, the Me 262 had accounted for 509 claimed Allied kills against approximately 100 losses.

Postwar:

With the end of hostilities in May 1945, the Allied powers scrambled to claim the remaining Me 262s. Studying the revolutionary aircraft, elements were subsequently incorporated into future fighters such as the F-86 Sabre. In the years after the war, Me 262s were used in high speed testing. Though German production of the Me 262 ended with the conclusion of the war, the Czechoslovak government continued building the aircraft as the Avia S-92 and CS-92.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Aviation
  5. Military Aircraft
  6. World War II Aircraft
  7. World War II Fighters
  8. Messerschmitt Me 262 - German Messerschmitt Me 262 Jet Fighter

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